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PHOTOS: The Moving History of a Gay Jewish Congregation

PHOTOS: The Moving History of a Gay Jewish Congregation


The book Changing Lives, Making History: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah is a testament to LGBT love, spirituality, and persistence.

Released in September of this year, Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen's story of the first 40 years of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City combines history with personal accounts, and a rich selection of images. Covered in 40 years are the early struggles, the first full-time rabbi, the AIDS crisis, the baby boom, and same-sex marriage. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, spiritual leader of the congregation, writes in her foreword:

If this book told only the story of the first forty years of a remarkable, quirky, irreverent, profound LGBTQS (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Straight) synagogue community -- dayeynu -- that would have been enough. But there is so much more.

The story, or rather the stories in Changing Lives, Making History: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah illuminate forty revolutionary and transformative years in the life of New York City, the nation, and the Middle East -- in the gay liberation movement; progressive Jewish religious movements; in the rise of feminism; the explosion of the politicized religious right, and in the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian struggles to achieve lasting peace. These past forty years have witnessed, among other things, the impact of AIDS; breakthroughs in reproductive technologies and the gay baby boom; the emergence of the queer and trans movements; and major Supreme Court decisions in support of equal rights.

Through it all, CBST has been at the epicenter. Our members and clergy have been the authors, the activists, the leaders, the foot soldiers, the victims, the protagonists, the lawyers, the board members, the executive directors, the staff, the demonstrators, the litigants, the litigators, the lovers, the parents, the children, the grandparents, and the teachers. At the same time and in the midst of these profound changes, CBST has created a spiritual sanctuary where so many individuals have been nourished and transformed on the deepest level of their souls. Prayer, Shabbat, music, and community have always been at the core, providing strength for the work to be done in the world and connecting us to the One who has created us all.

The book is available on Amazon.

Cbst001_0The Christopher Street Liberation Day March, 1970s

Cbst002_0The very earliest of Simchat Torah celebrations at CBST

Cbst003_0Members gathered for a Rosh Hashanah dinner, mid 1970s

Cbst004_0Nearly half of the men at CBST died of AIDS complications. Standing from left: Ira Berger*, Jesse Goldman, Lou Rittmaster, Bill Fern, Irving Cooperberg*; Seated from left: Shelly Post*, Jeff Katz, Ya'akov Gladstone.
*Died of AIDS

Cbst005_0The second quilt was displayed in the Chelsea sanctuary at Friday night services.

Cbst006_0Members of the committee working on the second quilt (from left): Hanna Gafni, Annette Miller, Leslie Deutsch, Sydney Rosenberg, Liz Deutsch

Cbst007_0CBST members with roots in the Conservative Movement proudly and defiantly gather in front of the headquarters of United Synagogue -- Conservative Judaism's congregational arm -- as they march down Fifth Avenue at Pride, 1991.

Cbst008_0Rabbi Kleinbaum (third from left) at a 1980s protest; Grace Paley (second from right)

Cbst009_0From left: Aari Ludvigsen holding Simon Ludvigsen-Gaines, Liz Galst holding Naomi Springer-Galst, Nancy Mertzel holding Shari Potasinski-Mertzel, Mark Lerner (obscured) holding Derek Frank-Lerner, Steven Frank holding Malka Aderman-Alcorn, Shelli Aderman holding Owen Boone, Yael Bat-Chava holding Talia Green, Rabbi Jo Hirschman (obscured) holding Shoshana Hirschman

Cbst010_0In the Torah Travelogue the entire Torah is unrolled and summarized.


Cbst012_0As the sun begins to set, congregants listen expectantly for Kol Nidrei to begin.

Cbst013_0Yolanda and Nancy dancing at their wedding, September 7, 1997

Cbst014_0Mitchell Davis and Nathan Goldstein rejoicing at their wedding in May, 2012

Cbst015_0In 2007 Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Rabbi Kleinbaum were arrested outside the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square, as they were protesting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and Gen. Peter Pace's comments that homosexuality is "immoral."

Cbst016_0Celebrating the demise of DOMA

Cbst017_0Edie Windsor being honored at CBST's Pride Service

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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